Tomahawk Block V missile launch by USS Chaffee (DDG-90), November 30, 2020
In the United States, work continues on the creation of new modifications of the Tomahawk cruise missile, known under the general designation Block V. The first version of the updated missile has already been brought to operational tests, and this year it will enter service with the Navy. The other two options will be tested and accepted later. It is expected that the appearance of three updated missiles with different features will positively affect the combat capabilities of surface ships and submarines.
On development stage
Work on the creation of the next modifications of the Tomahawk rocket based on the Block IV modification started at the end of the XNUMXs. The forces of a number of organizations in parallel worked out several decisions aimed at improving the characteristics and expanding the capabilities of the rocket.
So, in 2009, Raytheon Missile Systems received an order for the development of a new high-explosive-penetrating warhead Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System (JMEWS) with a programmable fuse and increased performance. The next contract for the technical design, manufacture and testing of such warheads in the final configuration appeared only in 2017.
Since 2012, Raytheon has been working on a modification of the Tomahawk called the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST). This project involved equipping the existing missile with a new homing head of an unnamed type. Various sources have mentioned the possibility of using an active radar or television seeker. With the help of such equipment, it would be possible to hit mobile surface targets.
In parallel, a search was carried out for ways to improve the airframe, power plant, control systems, etc. In particular, it was planned to increase immunity to interference, ensure full operation in the absence of GPS signals, and also get a retargeting function in flight. A key element of this project was the Integrated Single Box Solution (ISBS).
Since the fall of 2018, the new Tomahawk rocket modernization project has been officially designated Block V. It was announced that in the future, three versions of such a rocket, created using the latest developments, will go into series. Due to this, it is planned to expand the range of tasks to be solved and increase the flexibility of the use of cruise missiles.
The first in the new family should be a rocket designated as Tomahawk Block V. It was made on the basis of the previous Block IV modification using an updated airframe, improved on-board systems and an integrated instrument cluster. Such a rocket is seen as a direct development of the ideology of previous products with increased characteristics.
The Tomahawk Block Va project provides for the creation of a Block V modification with an MST homing head. Thus, the anti-ship version of the Tomahawk will again appear in the arsenals of the Navy. A missile of this class was already in service, but it was abandoned back in the mid-nineties.
Later, the Tomahawk Block Vb product will appear - a version of the original rocket with a high-power JMEWS warhead. With its help, it is proposed to more effectively hit a wide range of targets, including protected ground targets.
All projects of the Block V series provide for serial production by reworking existing Block IV missiles. It is also possible to release completely new products. The missiles of the new modifications can be used by surface ships and submarines, which will require some modification of the instruments and software of the carrier.
Missiles under test
To date, the Block V rocket with improved communication and control systems has passed field tests. At the end of November, a new stage of inspections started - operational tests on the carrier ship. The test launches were entrusted to the crew of the destroyer USS Chafee (DDG-90).
The first launch in the framework of the new tests took place on November 30 at one of the offshore ranges of the US West Coast. The next day, a new launch took place. In both cases, Block V missiles were used, rebuilt from weapons previous modification. Also during these events, a "test" launch of the Tomahawk Block IV missile was carried out.
Before launch, the coordinates of the original target were entered into the missile guidance system. Already during the flight, the missiles were given a new target designation, which implied a serious deviation from the original route. Both missiles successfully coped with the task and hit new targets.
In the recent past, the development company has conducted various tests of the main components of the Block Va and Block Vb projects. Flight tests of such missiles will take place in the near future and should be completed in the shortest possible time. After 2023-24 missiles of these modifications are planned to be adopted and put into production.
In the summer of 2020, Raytheon fulfilled its last contract for the production of Tomahawk cruise missiles in the Block IV version of Lot 15. Immediately after that, it was able to start implementing further plans for the development of missile weapons. In 2019, the Pentagon adopted a program to extend the life of cruise missiles, based on the Block V project. As a result of this program, existing missiles will remain in service for 15 years, until 2034.
All Tomahawk Block III missiles in the coming years will be decommissioned and disposed of due to moral and physical obsolescence. In parallel, the modernization of Block IV products will be carried out according to the new Block V project. In an unspecified time frame, it is planned to update in this way all available missiles - with a known increase in combat qualities.
The missile modernization process has already begun. Products of this origin have been used in recent tests and are also being delivered to warehouses. This year, the Tomahawk Block V with ISBS will go into service and this will launch a full-scale missile conversion. There are already two major orders for this upgrade. The work will be carried out at Raytheon sites with the participation of a number of subcontractors.
In FY2020 Raytheon manufactured the first 20 kits for converting Block IV Tomahawks into Block Va. Delivery of another 50 such kits and the start of operational tests are expected in the current fiscal year. The initial operational readiness of missiles with MST equipment will be achieved in 2022-23. At the same time or later, the fleet will begin to receive the first serial Block Vb missiles.
It is noted that the proposed plan for the modernization of cruise missiles has many advantages. At a limited cost, it will allow the existing models to remain in service and operate until the middle of the next decade. At the same time, new combat capabilities are emerging, providing greater flexibility of use.
Despite major advances in missile weapons, the Tomahawk family retains its place in the US Navy's arsenals. They are planned to be used at least until the mid-thirties, for which a large modernization project is being implemented right now.
The development and fine-tuning of individual components of the Block V project took a lot of time, but the first sample of the new line has already been brought to tests on a carrier ship, and this year it will enter service with the Navy. This gives the American the fleet serious reason for optimism. It is possible that all plans for the Tomahawk Block V will be fully implemented and on time.